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How CEO Jonelle Procope Saved Harlem’s Apollo Theater

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How CEO Jonelle Procope Saved Harlem’s Apollo Theater

NEW YORK (AP) — Jonelle Procope’s 20-year tenure as president and CEO of The Apollo Theater evolved into an era of prosperity and expansion, markedly different from the tumultuous, cash-strapped decades that preceded it.

Sure, the early years were a struggle, as the New York City landmark, where music legends from Billie Holiday and Stevie Wonder to D’Angelo and countless rappers graced the stage, dealt with financial difficulties and a shifting business model. And she had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic when the hub of its Harlem neighborhood was closed for two years.

However, when Procope steps down at the end of June, she will leave her successor Michelle Ebanks – the Essence Communications executive who was named her replacement last week – with the proceeds of a nearly $80 million campaign raised to complete a renovation and expansion of the historic theater by 2025. Though the bulk of that money came from donations, it also includes $15.7 million in support from the city of New York and a $10 million grant from the state.

On Monday night, Procope will be honored, alongside hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at The Apollo’s Spring Benefit for her service.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor,” Procope told The Associated Press in an interview. “In many respects, I think I take more away than what I gave. It really has made me a whole person.”

That said, she admits protecting The Apollo and building it into what it is now – the largest African American performing arts presenting organization in the country – has basically been her life throughout her tenure.

“It’s been 20 years of 24/7 Apollo,” said Procope, 72. “Frankly, I haven’t had space in my brain to really think about ‘What do you want to do next?’ So I’m excited to have a moment to be reflective and to think about the things that turn me on, what I am passionate about, what are things that I’m curious about.”

Charles E. Phillips, chairman of the Apollo’s board, has said Procope turned around the once-bankrupt theater almost single-handedly. “Jonelle has led the Apollo through an unparalleled period of growth,” Phillips said in a statement, adding that she also “forged partnerships globally, strengthened the Apollo’s finances, broadened a uniquely diverse audience, and navigated the institution through a challenging pandemic.”

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John Goerke, director of guest experience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, said the preservation of The Apollo Theater has been among the top priorities in American music history. The Apollo – especially through its still-running Amateur Night, captured on the TV series “Showtime at The Apollo” – has launched the careers of legendary performers ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Lauryn Hill.

“The venue is history you can see in real time,” he said. “You can literally go there and experience history with all the artists who have performed at The Apollo. They are telling the story of America.”

Procope said she had just started on the Apollo Theater board with opera legend Beverly Sills, then the chairwoman of Lincoln Center, when Sills referred to the Apollo as “the Lincoln Center of Uptown.”

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that sounds a little hokey,’” Procope said. “But we all understood what she meant. And the question was: Why shouldn’t there be a performing arts center for Harlem and the Uptown community? So that was always a vision.”

That vision of creating the Apollo Performing Arts Center is becoming reality, with the first phase opening last year with two new small theaters, meant for small concerts and theater workshops.

However, that was only possible after The Apollo fixed its finances. Once America became less segregated, the 1,500-seat main theater was no longer able to economically compete for concerts from major Black stars who were able to fill large arenas like Madison Square Garden.

That competition led to The Apollo losing millions each year and eventually going bankrupt in 1984. Though the theater became a nonprofit in 1991, run by The Apollo Theater Foundation, as recently as 2002, it struggled with financing for its ambitious shows.

When Procope took over in 2003, the former corporate lawyer methodically began The Apollo’s turnaround.

She credits the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone for providing The Apollo with one of its first major grants, which allowed her to hire a team to create a new business plan that balanced high arts entertainment and commercial programming.

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“We were able to gain the confidence of the public and the philanthropic community,” she said. “We began to get grants from what I would call ‘blue chip foundations’ – Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Sherman Fairchild (Foundation) and a number of others. That, for me, showed the confidence that they had in the Apollo leadership and what the Apollo was doing.”

Those donations allowed The Apollo to launch its educational programs, which served more than 20,000 students and their families annually before the pandemic, and make much-needed repairs. It could soon afford to expand its artistic ambitions, as well as its physical space.

Procope is excited about the upcoming expansion for The Apollo that will create a café in the lobby where the community can gather every day, even when there aren’t shows in the theater. That expansion, expected to open in 2025, formalizes what has become a tradition in Harlem, where people gather at The Apollo to grieve and celebrate the lives of major performers after they die.

It happened as recently as last month following the death of Tina Turner, but has been an Apollo phenomenon for years –- following the deaths of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, among others.

“The Apollo and its marquee has become synonymous with those moments – when people don’t know what to do with their grief, so they’ve turned to The Apollo,” Procope said. “The Michael Jackson period was just incredible. The people wrapped around 125th Street, coming into the theater just to listen because we played his music. People were on the stage and some danced in their seats. It was a sort of release.”

For Procope, that showed how The Apollo, which turns 90 in January, had become a “beacon of hope” for Harlem once again. And she does not take stewardship of that hope lightly.

She said she waited to step down until she was sure it was safe.

“The Apollo has had a few different lives,” Procope said. “It’s had its fits and starts, but it has endured. And what I do know for sure is: This time, it’s here to stay.”

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

BALTIMORE (AP) — Teams of engineers worked Saturday on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crumpled into the Patapsco River this week after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its supports.

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of bent and crumpled steel in the afternoon, and video released by officials in the evening showed demolition crews using a cutting torch to slice through the thick beams. The joint incident command said in a statement that the work was being done on the top of the north side of the collapsed structure.

Crews were carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats were on site in the water southeast of Baltimore.

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Moore said.

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphone photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses weigh as much as 4,000 tons.

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” Lichtenberg said from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point.

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The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness.

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can resume searching for four missing workers who are presumed dead.

Two other workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday, they could not get to the construction workers, who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remained on board with the debris from the bridge around it, and were safe and were being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed.

The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why.

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health.

REBUILDING

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore.

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Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild.

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals.

The loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters, but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tennessee; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed.

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The Texas attorney general is investigating a key Boeing supplier and asking about diversity

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The Texas attorney general is investigating a key Boeing supplier and asking about diversity

DALLAS (AP) — The Texas attorney general has opened an investigation into a key Boeing supplier that is already facing scrutiny from federal regulators over quality of parts that it provides to the aircraft maker.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said it began looking into Spirit AeroSystems because of “apparent manufacturing defects” in parts that “have led to numerous concerning or dangerous incidents.”

In a statement Friday, a Spirit spokesman said, “While we do not comment on investigations, Spirit is wholly focused on providing the highest quality products to all our customers, to include the Boeing Company.”

Paxton asked the Wichita, Kansas-based supplier to turn over documents produced since the start of 2022 about communication with investors and Boeing about flaws in parts and corrective steps the company took.

The request goes into detail in seeking internal discussions around Spirit’s efforts to create a diverse workforce “and whether those commitments are unlawful or are compromising the company’s manufacturing processes.” Paxton asked for a breakdown of Spirit’s workforce by race, sexual orientation and other factors, and whether the makeup has changed over time.

Since a Spirit-made door-plug panel blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max in January, some conservatives have tried to link aviation safety to diversity at manufacturers.

Paxton is a conservative Republican who this week agreed to pay $271,000 in restitution to victims and take 15 hours of training in legal ethics to settle felony charges of securities fraud. Paxton did not admit wrongdoing in the 9-year-old case.

The Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation into Boeing Spirit after the Alaska Airlines incident. An FAA audit of manufacturing procedures in Spirit’s factory gave the company failing grades in seven of 13 areas.

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Boeing is in talks to buy back Spirit, which it spun off nearly 20 years ago, as part of a plan to tighten oversight of manufacturing in its supply chain.

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Boeing plane found to have missing panel after flight from California to southern Oregon

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Boeing plane found to have missing panel after flight from California to southern Oregon

By CLAIRE RUSH and LISA BAUMANN

 

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A post-flight inspection revealed a missing panel on an older Boeing 737-800 that had just arrived at its destination in southern Oregon on Friday after flying from San Francisco, officials said, the latest in a series of recent incidents involving aircraft manufactured by the company.

United Flight 433 left San Francisco at 10:20 a.m. and landed at Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in Medford shortly before noon, according to FlightAware. The airport’s director, Amber Judd, said the plane landed safely without incident and the external panel was discovered missing during a post-flight inspection. No injuries were reported.

The airport paused operations to check the runway and airfield for debris, Judd said, and none was found.

Judd said she believed the United ground crew or pilots doing a routine inspection before the next flight were the ones who noticed the missing panel.

A United Airlines spokesperson said via email that the flight was carrying 139 passengers and six crew members, and no emergency was declared because there was no indication of the damage during the flight.

 

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The Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center is pictured in Medford, Ore., on Jan. 4, 2024. The first lawsuit filed Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, brought amid reports that a nurse at the southern Oregon hospital replaced intravenous fentanyl drips with tap water seeks up to $11.5 million on behalf of the estate of a 65-year-old man who died. (Janet Eastman/The Oregonian/The Oregonian via AP)

 

“After the aircraft was parked at the gate, it was discovered to be missing an external panel,” the United spokesperson said. “We’ll conduct a thorough examination of the plane and perform all the needed repairs before it returns to service. We’ll also conduct an investigation to better understand how this damage occurred.”

The Federal Aviation Administration also said it would investigate.

The missing panel was on the underside of the aircraft where the wing meets the body and just next to the landing gear, United said.

The plane made its first flight in April 1998 and was delivered to Continental Airlines in December of that year, according to the FAA. United Airlines has operated it since Nov. 30, 2011. It is a 737-824, part of the 737-800 series that was a precursor to the Max.

Boeing said, also via email, that it would defer comment to United about the carrier’s fleet and operations.

In January a panel that plugged a space left for an extra emergency door blew off a Boeing Max 9 jet in midair just minutes after an Alaska Airlines flight took off from Portland, leaving a gaping hole and forcing pilots to make an emergency landing. There were no serious injuries.

The door plug was eventually found in the backyard of a high school physics teacher in southwest Portland, along with other debris from the flight scattered nearby. The Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation.

On March 6, fumes detected in the cabin of a Boeing 737-800 Alaska Airlines flight destined for Phoenix caused pilots to head back to the Portland airport.

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The Port of Portland said passengers and crew noticed the fumes and the flight landed safely. Seven people including passengers and crew requested medical evaluations, but no one was hospitalized, officials said.

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Baumann reported from Bellingham, Washington.

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